Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


Unlikely coupling: Maria Schneider and Marlon Brando
LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972). Director: Bernardo Bertolucci.

"I'll be smirking and giggling all the way to eternity."

Jeanne (Maria Schneider), a young woman whose boyfriend, Tom, is filming a documentary about her life as it happens, enters into a "no names," no frills affair with an older man, Paul (Marlon Brando of On the Waterfront), whose wife has just committed suicide. Tom (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is unaware of Paul and his girlfriend's sexual obsession with the man. Will the two lovers manage to keep things casual, or will one of the participants want something more than just the eroticism? Last Tango in Paris was heavily promoted as an "art film" -- an Italian director and set in Paris! -- with screenings only in certain New York theaters and with tickets sold in advance with assigned seats. Without the frank sexual activity  -- a sodomy scene with butter was especially notorious -- it's unlikely anyone but Bertolucci's most fervent admirers would have cared about this fairly dull movie. The film is pretentious and all over the lot, as if Bertolucci had cobbled a screenplay around Brando and Paris and hoped for the best -- a series of tableau's that never really jell, although there are some interesting bits and pieces along the way, and the film does get at certain truths in some relationships where there is a distinct age difference between the parties. Some scenes seem thrown in because they might seem unique -- Paul has a talk with his dead wife's lover, Marcel (Massimo Girotti) for instance -- but they don't convince, just as it's hard to ever take seriously the "relationship" between Jeanne and Paul. [After passing on the street, they meet when both look at an apartment for rent, but there is nothing to suggest an attraction between the two. Yet Paul simply picks Jeanne up and begins having sex with her without her protesting.] Another senseless scene has Paul chasing after a potential client of a hooker who has changed his mind and calling him a "faggot." There is some humor on the sophomoric side -- Paul moons an older woman at a Tango palace --  and the performances aren't bad, but the actors have no fully dimensional characters to play, and Paul is essentially an asshole. Ultimately what Tango seems to be about is an aging, bitter man objectifying and debasing a younger woman even as she exposes how pathetic he is. Scheider appeared in quite a few movies both before and after Tango.  

Verdict: Like La Luna this is another Bertolucci movie that may make you want to say yuck! **.


angelman66 said...

I totally agree with your assessment. This film is a bore and so self-consciously "artsy". I love Brando, even in less-than-great films like Mutiny on the Bounty and even A Countess from Hong Kong, but even he does not hold my interest here. Bertolucci deals with epic human themes in his films that I feel I should be interested in, but his approach is far too existential to be entertaining. Exception: I do kind of like his film The Dreamers from the 2000s.

William said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't think this is "brilliant." I'll have to check out "The Dreamers." Once upon a time I was a big Bertolucci fan, and admired "The Conformist" -- for what I saw as his filmmaking skill if nothing else -- but have been disappointed in virtually everything else, although "The Last Emperor" had its moments. Admit I have yet to see "1900," however, which reportedly has many controversial elements but is four hours long or so!